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Hendonhall Part 2
With all that mahogany unloaded in Hull I signed up for the next trip, as did my friend John, I think we had got used to each other, he came from an Island off the coast of Scotland, Barra, I from London, in theory we spoke the same language, but that’s the theory, as I said we had got used to each other. I will mention here that when you sign on you have no idea where you are going, or for how long.
Our first set of orders were to go to Antwerp to load cargo, by the time we left Antwerp we had orders to head to the Persian Gulf, by then well into April, the gulf in summer is hot, and unlike a more modern ship no air conditioning.
The trip went well, passed through the notorious Bay of Biscay in good weather and enjoyed more pleasant conditions in the Mediterranean, as we approached the Suez Canal the weather had become quite warm, turned on the cabin fan and it went phut. An omen that the good times were counting down perhaps?
At Port Said we had orders for Bahrain Island, so on through the Red Sea past countless islands of solid barren rock, the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and on to Bahrain. Harsh land, hot, the wind always going the wrong way. The first thing we were to notice at Bahrain was the wreck of the Seistan, parts of it only above the water, then we never knew how important the Seistan was going to be to our survival.
I will next post the account of the Seistan explosion, not written by me.
The Seistan Explosion
At 9.35pm on the evening of February 19th 1958 the 7,440 ton British cargo vessel "Seistan" blew up in a shattering explosion in the Bahrain Explosives anchorage at Sitra. The explosion killed 57 people consisting of ships crew, stevedores and a tug crew alongside.
The vessel had been carrying a mixed cargo which included cases of Toe Puff, a substance described in the "Dangerous Cargoes aboard Ships" listing as; 'Several layers of fabric impregnated with cellulose nitrate solvent, rosin and dye. Liable to spontaneous combustion. To be packed in hermetically sealed tins and packed in wooden cases and to be stowed away from inflammable cargo and not in the same hold as explosives.'
Two cases of this material had been stowed in No. 5 hold which also contained 156 tons of commercial explosive consisting of Geophex and gelatine together with cases of safety fuses and detonators.
On 17th February 1958 as the vessel was entering the Arabian Gulf, via the Mediteranean and Red Sea, smoke was seen issuing from a deck ventilator in the vicinity of No. 5 hold. The hold was immediately filled with steam to smother any flames. The steam smothering continued until 5.30 am on 18th February when the vessel anchored at Sitra where it was decided to discharge the explosives. Some 75 tons were subsequently discharged and steam smothering resumed.
During the day the vessel was moved closer to the port. That evening, February 19th 1958, a glow was observed in the vicinity of No. 5 hold. Minutes later, at 9.35pm, a vast explosion blew the vessel in two - leaving a huge pall of smoke rising into the night sky.
'The shock wave from the explosion was felt in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. In Awali, the cinema screen shook like jelly. The ship's stern was completely shattered, the after part of the main deck being wrapped over the superstructure as if it were the top of a sardine can'. [ From 'The Islander' newspaper, published by BAPCO]. What remained of the vessel caught fire and sank by the stern in 40 feet of water leaving the bow and foredeck above the surface.
The explosion killed Captain Chappel, almost the entire Indian crew in the after part of the vessel and five crew members of a tug alongside. There were 18 survivors. [ From articles written by Kevin Patience and published in the Gulf Daily News.]
Three victims of the Seistan disaster remain in the cemetery.