Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Incidents at the Queens Dock

Atlantic Duchess' Explosion

.At around 5.00 a.m. on Friday, 2nd February 1951, a catastrophic explosion aboard the Liberian-registered oil tanker ‘Atlantic Duchess’ in the Queens Dock, Swansea, killed seven of the crew, broke the back of the ship, and completely burned out the midships accommodation. The fire raged for several hours before the fire-fighting tugs Kingforth and Queenforth and the crews of fire appliances from Swansea and the surrounding area were able to bring the blaze under control.

....By 8.00 a.m. the fire was sufficiently under control to allow a team of fire-fighters to board the ship in search of the missing crewmen. However, a second large explosion at around 10.25 a.m. resulted in six of these men being injured, some of whom were hurled into the waters of the dock by the force of the blast. Nevertheless, the bodies of the seven dead crew members were eventually recovered from the vessel.

....The ‘Atlantic Duchess’, a new tanker built by William Gray & Co. at Graythorpe, Hartlepool, had sailed from West Hartlepool to Abadan on her maiden voyage on the 30th November 1950 to load 12,000 tons of butanised crude oil for delivery to National Oil Refineries Ltd., Llandarcy, Swansea. Carrying a crew of around 35 men, she arrived at Swansea during the night of the 29th January, 1951, and was berthed at No. 2 jetty in Queens Dock at 4.50 a.m. on the 1st February. Discharge of the cargo commenced some 45 minutes after berthing and finished at around 2.45 a.m. on the 2nd February. The first explosion occurred 2¼ hours later as the ship was taking on ballast.

Following the disaster, the ‘Atlantic Duchess’ was cut in two, and both sections were towed back to William Gray’s Shipyard in Hartlepool for reconstruction. The photos below clearly show the damage to the ship in the aftermath of the explosion, and the final picture shows the bow section being towed out from the Port of Swansea on its way to Hartlepool.

Atlantic Duchess blown in two.

Tug along side

Making ready to tow her in two sections

Bow section being towed from Swansea Docks

'Atlantic Duchess' details:-

Built by William Gray, Hartlepool; Yard no. 1237; Launched 15th June 1950; Completed November 1950. Engine builder:- Central Marine Engine Works, Hartlepool. Engine type:- 2 x 2 SA each 6 cylinder, aft. First owner - Atlantic Oil Carriers (Liberia) Ltd, Monrovia. 1961 - name changed to mv Molat Jugoslavenska Tankerska Plovidba Zagreb. 1968 - Converted to a storage hulk for INA-Petronafta Zagreb numbered MA9. 1971 - Renumbered SP.3. 1975 - Arrived at Sveti Kajo for breaking, still showing her name as Molat

‘Olav Ringdal Jr.’ Explosion

At around 4.30 a.m. on the 27th November 1954, almost four years after the ‘Atlantic Duchess’ disaster, there was a massive explosion and fire aboard the tanker ‘Olav Ringdal Jr.’ which was moored on the east layby berth at Queens Dock after discharging a cargo of crude oil from the Persian Gulf. Although many of the crew of 42 were able to evacuate the ship after the explosion, several were forced to jump overboard or were blown into the dock by the force of the blast. Sadly three of the crew were killed and twelve were injured in this incident.

The explosion occurred in the vicinity of the engine room of the ‘Olav Ringdal Jr.’ almost splitting the tanker in two and, as with the ‘Atlantic Duchess’, the bow and stern sections had to be cut apart before being towed separately out of Swansea Docks. She was repaired at Harland & Wolff’s shipyard at Liverpool and re-entered service in July 1955.

The ‘Olav Ringdal Jr.’ was built in 1948 by Eriksbergs mek Verkstads A/B of Gothenberg, Sweden for Olav Ringdals Tankrederi A/S, Oslo, and had a gross tonnage of 9,815 tons and a deadweight of 15,700 tons. She was 518’ 4” in length, with a beam of 65’ 4” and a draft of 28’ 8”. In later years her forward section was scrapped and her stern was added to the bow section of the ‘Etnefjell’ to form the bulk carrier ‘Besna’. Under its final name of ‘Ken Lung’, the vessel sank off the Andaman Islands in 1977.

Olav Ringdal Jr.

‘British Flag’ Explosion

In the early hours of the 8th December 1965, just after 1.00 o’clock in the morning, there was a huge explosion and fire aboard the BP tanker ‘British Flag’, which was berthed at No. 2 Jetty, Queens Dock, Swansea. Fire appliances from Swansea and Morriston were quickly on the scene of the disaster, as was the ‘BP Firemaster’, aided by the tugs ‘Brambles’, ‘Wallasey’ and ‘Flying Kestrel’. The intensity of the fire was such that additional fire-fighting appliances had to be called in from the Carmarthen & Cardigan Fire Brigade and, at its height, it is estimated that there were almost a hundred fire-fighters tackling the blaze.

Due to the combined efforts of the Fire Service, the ‘BP Firemaster’ and the three fire-fighting tugs, the blaze was successfully brought under control and by 3.15 a.m. it had been completely extinguished. Fortunately there were no casualties suffered by the Fire Service during this incident, but among the crew of the tanker there was, sadly, one fatality and one case of second-degree burns.

Following the disaster the ‘British Flag’ was moved to Palmers Repair Jetty in Queens Dock for temporary repairs, after which she sailed to Smiths Dock in North Shields on the River Tyne for repairs to her hull and starboard accommodation. It is interesting to note that the ‘British Flag’ incident marks the one and only time that the ‘BP Firemaster’ (see alongside column) was brought into use in almost twenty years’ service at the Queens Dock, Swansea.

The British Flag berthed at number 2 jetty Queens Dock. Ahead of her is the British Robin

Damage caused by the explosion

BP tanker 'British Robin' which was berthed ahead of the 'British Flag' at the time of the explosion

Geoff Cobb was on his first trip to sea as an engineer aboard the BP tanker 'British Robin', and he gave us the following account of his memories of the explosion:- "I had just worked the 4.00 p.m. to midnight 'day' watch in the engine room. Allowing for showering and changing, I'd have been in the pantry at about twenty minutes past midnight when the explosion happened. With the shock wave causing the pantry's cups, plates etc. to crash onto the floor, I initially thought it was the British Robin that had exploded!"

Many thanks to Geoff for his contribution and assistance with this item.

Three tugs that assisted in fighting the fire - Flying Kestrel, Brambles and the Wallasey

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