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Precis File
SHIP NAME: Atlantic Empress KEY: NUM. ENTRIES: 6
source CEDRE
type D
volume 280000T
material crude
dead 26
link http://www.le-cedre.fr/en/spill/atlantic/atlantic.php

Site has a picture labeled Atlantic Empress, showing a fire starboard side midships, with the ship listing to starboard. Reference: Hore and Neal, Oil Spill Conference, 1981.


source ETC
type D
volume 2101095B
material
dead
link

ETC divides this casualty into three spills, 1,016,761 barrels of Arabian Crude from Empress, 30 km NE Trinidad Tobago. 102,620 barrels of Venezuelan crude from Captain, 30 km NE Trinidad Tobago. 987,714 barrels of Arabian Crude from Empress, 450 km east of Barbadoes on the second of August, after she was towed out to sea, suffered more explosions and sank.


source HODGSON-1986
type A
volume
material
dead
link

In July came the biggest casualty ever in terms of sheer tonnage lost: the Atlantic Empress, 292,000 dwt, collided with the Aegean Captain, 210,000 dwt, off Tobago in the Caribbean. The Atlantic Empress was insured for $45 million and carried $40 million woth of napthalene [wrong]. The Aegean Captain, insured gfor $7.5 million, stayed afloat but lost $4 million of the oil she was carrying.


source HOOKE
type D
volume
material
dead 29
link

Greek TT Atlantic Empress, loaded with 270,000 tons Jebel Dhanna to Texas, collided with Liberan TT Aegean Captain, loaded with 210,000 tons, in rainstorm off Tobago at 1915, 1979-07-19. Empress was holed, caught fire, 29 of 34 man crew lost. Captain holed on starboard bow, was also on fire forward and crew abandoned ship but with many injuries.

On the night of July 21/22, tugs towed still blazing Empress out to sea, with 10 of her 15 cargo tanks still intact. About 300 miles NE of Tobago big explosion and she sank.

Captain was reboarded and managed to put fire out. Ship was towed to Curacao, lightered and then scrapped.


source CAHILL_C
type D
volume
material
dead 16
link

Aegean Captain was steering 129, Atlantic Empress about 287. Empress watch officer was the Radio Officer and a drinker. He did not posses a deck officer's license. Both ships were in and out of rain squalls. Although Empress master claimed he had opted for starboard to starboard and then Aegean Captain went starboard, the board did not believe him. The Liberian Board of enquiry found that neither ship made any substantial alternation of course until the very last minute. In both cases, the rating on watch was below. Cahill concludes the watchkeeping on both ships was appalling. It appears neither ship knew much about radar nor how to adjust it to minimize the masking effects of heavy rain. As a result they simply did not see each other until too late.

Cahill's sketch shows Aegean Captain hitting Atlantic Empress on Empress's starboard side at a shallow angle. But the write up says

At a time estimated to be between 1900 and 1905, the ships collided, with the stem of the Atlantic Empress striking Aegean Captain on the starboard side in way of her No 3 starboard wing tank at an angle of about 25 degrees.
CTX is assuming the sketch and Hooke are correct, and the names got interchanged in the write up. This is confirmed by the CEDRE photo.


source CTX
type D
volume 280000T
material C
dead 26
link

This is the largest tanker spill of all time so far. It is extremely rare case of a collision between two loaded tanker, actually two loaded VLCC's. This is extremely unlikely since loaded tankers, especially loaded crude carriers, almost always are traveling in the same direction.

In this case the Empress was on the standard PG to Gulf of Mexico route. This means entering the Caribbean Sea through the 15 mile wide passage between Trinidad and Tobago. There are rumours that the Captain was in the business of smuggling oil to South Africa. This is plausible. There is no other reason why a loaded VLCC would be traveling eastward thru this passage. Her claim to be bound for Singapore is not believable. There is no way Venezuelan crude could compete with Mideast crude in the Far East in those days.

It is ridiculous that two radar equipped ships simply did not see the other, but that apparently is what happened. Cahill usually makes a big deal about too much speed and no look out on the bow. But the fact it does not make economic sense to slow down every time a ship encounters bad visibility. It is simply not going to happen, and realistic regulation has to deal with this fact. Moreover, a look out on the bow or the bridge for that matter is never going to see the other ship before it is on radar. The key is proper radar watch and in this case the people on the bridge were incompetent. It turned out the Empress had had no boat drills for the last five months, and the attempts to launch her lifeboat turned into a disaster which is when most of the people died. Despite this and the clearly illegal fact that the Empress was operating without a properly licensed watch officer, the Liberian report says "We ... wish to say nothing that might be thought to be any criticism or complaint against those who were responsible for operating these two vessels." In other words, do not bite the hand that feeds you.