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BOMBAY DOCK FIRE CASE STUDY
14 th APRIL 1944 DATE : 14 TH APRIL 1944 LOCATION : VICTORIA DOCK SHIP : S S FORT STIKINE CAPACITY : 7000 TONS CARGO : AMMUNITION BELONGED : BRITISH MINISTRY OF WAR AND TRANSPORT
S. S. FORT STIKINE
HISTORY Ship left Birkinhead-UK : 24 th Feb’ 1944 Convey of 20 other ships with cargo for Karachi and Bombay. Karachi cargo – RAF Planes, general stores, Explosives and ammunitions. Bombay Cargo – 1395 tons of explosives and ammunitions and service stores.
Reached Karachi - 30 th March, where a part of cargo was discharged, leaving void of 2, 86, 000 cu. ft in her hold. New Cargo – Cotton, Timber, Lubricating oil, Resin, Sulphur and other combustible. LEFT KARACHI : 9 th APRIL Reached BOMBAY : 12 th APRIL. No explosives or ammunition were off loaded until the Ship had been alongside for 24 hrs.
BY LAWS OF B. P. T A ship carrying explosives is not allowed into the Docks, but under rule 88 of the Defence of India Rules this by-law is suspended in cases where Military Officer has given a certificate of “Grave Urgency”. Such a certificate WAS GIVEN in case of Fort Stikine.
The Memorable Day Throughout the morning she was active as cargo hooks swayed a load of commodities from the “Fort Stikine” Firemen at the fire stations as usual were shining their brass to keep their Fire Engines shining.
2: 00 pm – a wisp of smoke noticed from the No 2 hold of the ship. Frantic series of short blast of whistles warning of Fire aboard. The ship crew started pouring musky water in the ship hold. Fire engines from Alexander Dock and AF squad promptly arrived, and started hose streams in the smoking hold.
The Firemen though aware of the dangerous situation , there was no panic. The prompt arrival of the Fire Engines then seemed no reason to think that the fire could not be controlled. Soon it became apparent that the firemen were “losing ground”. A call was put through to the Fire Brigade control for additional appliances
2: 30 pm – large part of Fire Services were on plier. Total 32 jets in action, pouring gallons of water into the ship hold. The fire still gained. There was something preventing the water from reaching the seat of fire. The Deck Head under the Firemen’s feet grew hotter
The water stream played over the deck head turned to Steam. It was now clear that the fire was out of control. Sides and Deck became Cherry Red, blenching thick black and brown smoke. Flames shot mast high. Orders to abandon ship. But sound never reached Firemen's ear.
4: 05 - Ground rumbled and EXPLOSION, Fort Stikine blew up. With it went Gallant Firemen and Fire engine disappeared from the face of Earth. No. of ships destroyed, which were moored nearby. At one stroke the key port of Bombay was taken out of war. 4: 36 – SECOND EXPLOSION-product of No. 4&5 hold cast upwards to height of 3000 ft. Result : ? ? ?
RESULT OF EXPLOSION ENTIRE DOCK UPTO FEW KMS. WERE IN FLAME. FRACTURE OF THE 24” WATER MAIN BY A METAL PIECE AT LEAST 20 FEET LONG, COMPLETELY BLOCKING FRERE ROAD BY FIRE DEBRIS, AND DISLODGED TRAM WIRES DESTRUCTION OF 14 OTHER SHIPS. 336 PERSONS BURNED 66 FIREMEN DEAD ALL AROUND PEOPLE AND ANIMAL LYING DEAD. MANY FIREFIGHTERS DISABLED
View of Harbour after first Explosion
Workers fleeing the scene after the second explosion
CASUALTIES The number of persons who died in the explosion will never be known and figures are conflicting NFPA Hand book- Listed 731 dead. Other Sources- 1500 dead/missing, over 3000 injured.
CLAIM Couple of months after disaster 3083 people had requested claims for damage by fire or blasts and to the property. 11, 735 had put up claim for uninsured properties. 466 uninsured people had claimed as compensation for personal injuries.
COMPENSATION PAID Govt. paid out 850 lakhs as damage by fire and blast. Marine insurance- Rs. 150 lakhs. Paid for uninsured properties – 300 lakhs. Personal injuries – 13 lakhs. Miscellaneous policy – 4. 5 lakhs
Words of Lt. Edward F. Oliver, US Coast Guard, US Naval Institute “Few have ever heard of the greatest dynamite gun powder explosion of World War II – a blow to the allied war machine beyond the wildest dreams of a potential saboteur. The explosion nearly wiped out “Gateway of India” and destroyed or damaged nearly 1, 000 tons of allied shipping. The cost of the disaster has been put at more than a billion dollars. In terms of human lives, the figure is more difficult to arrive at. Official figures listed only those who passed through the hospitals and aid station. It was estimated that there were 1500 dead and missing and injured. How many simply disappeared will never be known”
KILLED Bombay Auxiliary Fire Services Bombay Fire Brigade Bombay Salvage Corps Bombay Port Trust Employees City Police Ship Crews Army Air Force Navy Crew of Country Craft INJURED 42 24 12 84 14 41 15 07 04 85 02 Not Known 55 123 30 15 160 10
Warehouse with Railroad Cars.
In 1968, late though the Govt. of India designated April 14 th as FIRE SERVICE DAY in recognition of the valour & sacrifice of the firemen who lost their lives in the explosion and those who laid down their lives “IN LINE OF DUTY”
Let us all Indians pay homage to all those brave firefighters by observing 02 min silence THANK YOU