The death roll in the sea disaster off Bahrain on Wednesday night has now risen to 58.
The death roll in the sea disaster off Bahrain on Wednesday night has now risen to 58. Three badly burned Indian seamen died in the early hours of this morning.
The explosion aboard the 7,400 ton British freighter Seistan, owned by the Strick Line, ripped the vessel apart from amidships to the stern. A fierce fire followed the explosion and many stunned and shocked seamen died in the flames before aid arrived.
The Seistan, which was on her second voyage from the United Kingdom to the Persian Gulf, put in at Bahrain for sanctuary on Tuesday morning after a smouldering fire had been located in number six hatch on the previous day. She was originally bound for Kharg Island, off Iran.
About 80 tons of gelignite which had been destined for Persian Gulf oilfields were unloaded and then steam smothering was tried in an effort to extinguish the fire. About 150 tons of explosive were still aboard, it is believed.
A fire watch was maintained on board throughout the day and tugs moved in to render aid if necessary. The explosion at 9.30 in the evening followed within seconds of a sudden flare-up in the smouldering hatch. The blast shook houses 20 miles away from the anchorage. Most of the Indian crew were in their stern quarters near number six hatch when the explosion occurred.
A small tug which had been standing by the freighter disappeared in the blast. No trace of it has been found. Six Bahraini tugmen died. Two more were found later that night clinging to a buoy nearly a mile away.
A boat crew from the motor vessel Muristan, owned by the same shipping company, was the first to reach the blazing ship. First man aboard from the Muristan was Chief Officer Phillip Wyndham Price of South Shields. He was followed by Fourth Engineer Albert Hide, Electrician Robert Matthews and Third Mate Randolph Price.
The Third Mate said they found a scene of terrible caranage aboard the Seistan. Shocked men were stumbling blindly through the smoke and flames were racing forward where detonators were stored. More explosions were expected.
The Muristan boat crew grabbed injured men and lowered them over the side. One of the first to be rescued was Mrs. V. Jones, wife of the Chief Officer, and her five-year-old son Peter. The family survived. The boy escaped unscathed. His mother suffered a broken leg and her husband was shocked.
The Muristan crew was soon joined by rescue workers organised by Marine Superintendent Commander Samuel Mason, RNR. He led his team aboard the Seistan and rescue work started in earnest.
On shore the two main hospitals on the island, at Awali and Manama, had been alerted and a fleet of ambulances raced to the Sitra jetty. Rescue work went on throughout the night and some 23 people were finally brought ashore.
Because the Seistan had not originally been bound for Bahrain the local shipping agents did not have a crew list and it was some time before the magnitude of the disaster could be appreciated. It is now fairly certain that only five Indian seamen survived out of a complement of 50. Six British seamen died and 11 are now in hospital. At least two are in a serious condition.
The vessel was still smouldering when I went out to her late yesterday afternoon. The stern lies on the bottom in seven fathoms. The bows are still above water.
One of the few survivors able to tell his story coherently was the Chinese ship's carpenter Tong Ling Tong of South Shields. Tong said he came up on deck shortly before the explosion and was preparing to have a bath when someone shouted "Fire."
Almost at once flames raced from the stern to amidships. "A lot of Indian seamen crowded around me and asked what they should do," said Tong.
"I told them to get ready for a swim. The flames rushed towards us and I climbed a mast. Then there was a big bang and something hit my head. I don't know any more. I don't know how I got to hospital."
He has minor leg injuries and is still deaf from the blast. Mr. I. Lorimer, an engineering and shipping surveyor from the British Ministry of Transport is now expected in Bahrain and will open preliminary inquiries into the disaster - the worst in Bahrain's long maritime history.