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Precis File
source LINK
type A
dead 76

By Tan, Lay Yuen written on 1999-04-17 National Library Board Singapore

On 12 October 1978, at 2:15 pm, an explosion occurred on the Greek tanker, S. T. Spyros, whilst the vessel was undergoing repairs at Jurong Shipyard, causing a fire and leading to 76 dead and 69 injured.

The S. T. Spyros was owned by Ulysses Tanker Corporation of Liberia and operated by International Operations, S A. The Liberian-registered vessel was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan in 1964 and it is a steam turbine-driven tanker of 64,081 tons deadweight. On 6 October 1978, S. T. Spyros arrived in Singapore for a full special survey and general repairs at Jurong Shipyard. One of the items for repair was the replacement of the missing cover for the drip tray of the vent pipe leading from the aft starboard fuel oil tank.

Sparks from the cutting torch used during repairs, caused a fire which ignited an explosive vapour mixture within the aft starboard bunker tank of the vessel. The fuel tank had been contaminated by crude oil. The explosion ruptured the common bulkhead between the tank and the engine room, releasing the burning oil into the engine room and setting it on fire, killing the workers there instantly.

Of those working on board the vessel, 76 people were killed and 69 others injured. Of the victims who died from burns, some bodies were charred while most died from flash burns, the intense heat of approximately 3,000 degrees centigrade sloughing off their underlying skin. Others died from suffocation after inhaling hot toxic fumes or from carbon monoxide poisoning. At least two people drowned in oil. A full list of the deceased, dates and causes of death is appended to the Inquiry Report.

A Committee of Inquiry chaired by Senior District Judge, Michael Khoo Kah Lip was set up to explore the cause of the fire. Organised labour, led by NTUC Secretary-General, C. V. Devan Nair, expressed outrage at the tragedy because it was the third major mishap at Jurong Shipyard since 1972. The Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Labour), Fong Sip Chee, felt equally disgusted. Both the trade unions and the government lobbied and campaigned vigorously for greater safety consciousness in the shipbuilding and repairing industry.

References Committee of Inquiry into the Explosion and Fire on Board S.T. Spyros. (1979). The explosion and fire on board S.T. Spyros, 12th October 1978: The inquiry report. Singapore : Ministry of Labour. (Call no.: RSING 623.83 SIN)

source CTX
type D
volume 27000B
material C

The "contamination" of the fuel oil tank with crude was probably crucial. Normally, bunker fuel oil is not volatile enough to ignite which was probably why they were doing hotwork on the starboard bunker tank vent without properly purging the tank and testing the tank atmosphere. Cleaning a bunker tank is time-consuming and expensive, and normally not done unless repairs inside the tank are required. There are only two ways crude oil can get into a bunker tank: a leak from a neighboring cargo tank or the crew was stealing cargo for fuel. In this case, the latter possibility seems unlikely for the crew would know about it and the danger. Hooke says 6 crew were among the dead. A cofferdam is required between the cargo tanks and the bunker tanks (was this true in 1964 when the ship was built?), so either two bulkheads were leaking, so this also seems unlikely.

At this point, we are calling the cause unknown. Maybe the Ministry of Labour inquiry, which CTX has not seen has the answer.