The following article was originally published in the April, 1961 issue of Sea Breezes and will be the first of our special centenary features which look back at stories from our past 100 years.
Major casualties at sea seem to have a tendency to occur, figuratively speaking, in waves. Often a bad casualty is quickly followed by another of an equally serious nature, so that the marine insurance market suffers a heavy blow and underwriters begin to wonder why they chose to enter such a profession.
In the closing weeks of 1960, an unfortunate period began, bringing a series of total losses at sea which lasted into the New Year and involved some very large and heavily insured ships. Even more unfortunate was the fact that in some instances, heavy loss of life occurred and it may well be of some significance that tankers, two of them big vessels of the “supertanker” class, predominated in the casualties.
December 1960 was only just a week old when news came of the loss of one of the largest merchant ships in the world – the Liberian flag ore-oil carrier Sinclair Petrolore (35,477 gross tons), owned by Universe Tankships, Inc, Monrovia, one of the Ludwig group of companies. She was on a voyage from Mena-al- Ahmadi, in the Persian Gulf to Philadelphia with a cargo of oil, when on December 6, in the South Atlantic in a position about 300 miles off the coast of Brazil, an explosion occurred on board followed by fire.
Soon afterwards, the enormous vessel, which had a deadweight capacity of 56,089 tons, sank and 48 of her crew of 50 were picked up by the Panamanian T2 tanker Mary Ellen Conway. The total insured value of the hull of the Sinclair Petrolore was $8,125,000 (about £2.8 million), shared between the London and American markets. Of the London proportion, both Lloyd’s and the various marine insurance companies were involved.
The Sinclair Petrolore was completed in 1955 by the National Bulk Carriers Kure Shipyard Division, Kure, Japan. Designed as a self-unloading ore-oil carrier, she carried a very large ore unloading boom which made her readily identifiable at sea. She spent most of her short career as a tanker, however, and on her maiden voyage, at the end of 1955, made headlines by lifting the largest cargo of crude oil carried up to that time, loading a total of 51,330 tons at Mena-al-Ahmadi for Santos.
A year later, during the Suez affair, the ship was diverted to the United Kingdom with a cargo of 52,368 tons of oil, which was allocated eventually to the Esso refinery at Fawley. Her arrival there presented some unusual problems for, with a draft of 40ft, she only had a clearance of 3ft 2in at high water when alongside the Fawley jetty. By achieving a particularly fast rate of discharge it was just possible to keep her clear of the bottom as the tide fell.
She returned to Southampton with another cargo of 52,836 tons in 1957, but was thereafter mainly engaged on the run from the Persian Gulf to Santos or Philadelphia, via the Cape, returning through the Suez Canal. She did, however, make a further voyage to Fawley with a cargo of 48,336 tons of oil in August of last year.
Loss of the Sinclair Petrolore, which was a single-screw steam turbine vessel, is the biggest tanker loss so far recorded; the previous biggest loss in this class was the World Splendour, one of the Niarchos group tankers. She had a deadweight of 40,100 tons and sank in the Mediterranean in 1957 after an explosion and fire.
A week after this disaster there occurred an even worse calamity insofar as three ships were involved, with considerable loss of life. On the morning of December 14, in the Bosporus, near Istanbul, the Greek turbine tanker World Harmony (20,992 gross tons) on a voyage from Piraeus to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossisk, collided with the Yugoslav tanker Petar Zoranic (17,830 gross tons), bound from Tuapse to Hamburg with petrol and benzine. Fire broke out in both ships, followed by explosions; locked together the two tankers drifted on to the Turkish steamer Tarsus (9,451 gross tons), anchored nearby, setting her on fire also.
The fire swept through all three ships, and the death roll resulting from the triple collision mounted to 52, including some members of the Turkish Customs who were on board the Tarsus. All the ships were practically gutted and the movement of shipping in the Bosporus was suspended for some days.