The day a burn­ing At­lantic caught fire, and turned black

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

WEEK­END AR­GUS re­porter John Fen­sham was in a small plane cir­cling the crip­pled 271 540- ton Span­ish su­per­tanker Castillo de Bel­lver, ablaze off Sal­danha Bay, when, as the air­craft was forced to fly un­der the smoke-cloud, it “bucked and rolled in the tur­bu­lence and heat of the fire”.

Fen­sham de­scribed how “flames, at first re­stricted to the port side of the stricken tanker and a square-mile patch of sea on its down­wind side, sud­denly bil­lowed 1 000m into the air. They en­veloped the en­tire ves­sel in a ball of fire as its back broke and thou­sands of tons of oil erupted from its tanks”.

“Heav­ing in heavy seas and a strong north-west­erly wind, the bro­ken tanker was sur­rounded by fire as oil, which un­til then had been leak­ing only from the port side, burst into flames on the wind­ward side and was blown di­rectly on to the ship.

“Black smoke, un­der­laid by a cloud of steam from wa­ter­spouts gen­er­ated in the lee of the ship and by va­por­ised waves break­ing over the deck, rose 1 000m into the air and stretched at least 30 miles to­wards the Cape’s West Coast.

“The rolling At­lantic swells, prob­a­bly be­tween 4-5m high, heaved them­selves on to the deck as it buck­led with the heat, and were im­me­di­ately va­por­ised, the white steam in­con­gru­ous amid the red and black of the in­ferno.” The fol­low­ing was the lead re­port that Satur­day. Au­gust 6, 1983 Tanker In­ferno

More than a quar­ter mil­lion tons of heavy crude oil have been re­leased into the sea off Sal­danha Bay fol­low­ing the break-up of the 271 540-ton Span­ish su­per­tanker Castillo de Bel­lver, which caught fire 40km off Sal­danha Bay early to­day.

Thirty-three crew mem­bers have been res­cued and three are miss­ing, pre­sumed dead.

In spite of one of the most ex­ten­sive dis­as­ter pre­ven­tion oper­a­tions mounted on the South African coast, the fully-laden 334m tanker, which caught fire and was aban­doned by her crew at 1.30am, has pre­sented the world with one of the big­gest mar­itime dis­as­ters and has left South Africa with its gravest pol­lu­tion threat.

How­ever, lat­est reports say the south-west­erly gale is abat- ing and less­en­ing the threat of coastal pol­lu­tion.

The first of two Kuswag anti- pol­lu­tion ves­sels, with more than 120 tons of chem­i­cal dis­per­sant, have reached the oil slick… Hun­dreds of tons of chem­i­cal oil dis­per­sant is also be­ing rushed to Cape Town…

A 20-mile long and three­mile wide oil slick is re­ported to be wal­low­ing on the ocean sur­face. About 400m of the slick and the bow of the ves­sel are re­ported to be burn­ing fiercely.


The stricken Castillo de Bel­lver, off Sal­danha Bay.

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