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Bombay Docks Explosion

The Bombay Docks Explosion

The Bombay Explosion (or Bombay Docks Explosion) occurred on”14 April 1944, ” in the Victoria Dock of Bombay (now Mumbai) when the freighter SS Fort Stikine carrying a mixed cargo of coon bales, gold, and ammunition including around 1,400 tons of explosives, caught fire and was destroyed in two giant blasts, scattering debris, sinking surrounding ships and setting fire to the area killing around 800 people.Bombay Docks Explosion

SS Fort Stikine

The SS Fort Stikine was a 7,142 gross register ton freighter built in 1942 in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, under a lend-lease agreement, and was named after Fort Stikine, a former outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Sailing from Birkenhead on 24 February via Gibraltar, Port Said and Karachi, she arrived at Bombay on 12 April 1944. Her cargo included 1,395 tons of explosives including 238 tons of sensitive “A” explosives, torpedoes, mines, shells, munitions, Super-marine Spitfire fighter aircraft, raw co on bales, barrels of oil, timber, scrap iron and approximately ¬£890,000 of gold bullion in bars in 31 crates. The 87,000 bales of coon and lubricating oil were loaded at Karachi and the ship’s captain, Alexander James Naismith, recorded his protest about such a “mixture” of cargo.

The transportation of coon through sea route inevitable for the merchants, as transporting coon in rail from Punjab and Sindh to Bombay  banned at that me.Bombay Docks Explosion The vessel had berthed and was still a waiting unloading on 14 April, after 48 hours of berthing. In the mid-afternoon around 14:00, the crew alerted to a fire on board burning somewhere in the No. 2 hold.

How did Bombay Docks Explosion happen?

The crew dockside fire teams and fire boats were unable to extinguish the conflagration, despite pumping over 900 tons of water into the ship, nor were they able to find the source due to the dense smoke. The water was boiling all over the ship, due to heat generated by the fire.Bombay Docks Explosion

At 15.50 the order to abandon ship given, and sixteen minutes later a great explosion, cutting the ship in two and breaking windows over 12 km (7.5 mi) away. The two explosions powerful enough to recorded by seismographs at the Colaba Observatory in the city, Sensors recorded that the earth trembled at Shimla, a city located at a distance of over 1700 km. The shower of burning material set fire to slums in the area.

Around two square miles set ablaze in an 800 m (870 yd) arc around the ship. Eleven neighboring vessels had sunk or sinking, and the emergency personnel at the site suffered heavy losses. An empts to fight the fire dealt a further blow when a second explosion from the ship swept the area at 16:34. Burning coon bales fell from the sky on docked ships; on the dock yard, and on slum areas outside the harbor. The sound of explosions heard as far as 50 miles (80 km) away. Some of the most developed and economically important parts of Bombay wiped out because of the blast and resulting fire. The total number of lives lost in the explosion estimated at more than 800; although some estimates put the figure around 1,300.

What are the results of the Bombay Docks Explosion?

  • 231 people killed attached to various dock services including fire brigade and dock employees.
  • Of the above figure, 66 firemen killedBombay Docks Explosion
  • More than 500 civilians killed
  • Some estimates put total deaths up to 1300
  • More than 2500 injured, including civilians
  • 13 ships lost and some other ships heavily or partially damaged
  • Out of above, three Royal Indian Navy ships lost
  • 31 wooden crates, each containing four gold bars, each gold bar weighing 2 stones (actually 800 Troy ounces).
  • More than 50,000 tones of shipping destroyed and another 50,000 tonnes of shipping damaged
  • Loss of more than 50,000 tones of food grains, including rice, gave rise to black- marketing of food grains afterwards.
  • The inquiry into the explosion indented the coon bales as probably being the seat of the fire.
  • It was critical of several errors: storing the coon below the munitions; not displaying the red flag required to indicate a dangerous cargo on board, delaying unloading the explosives; not using steam injectors to contain the fire and a delay in alerng the local fire brigade.

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