San Flaviano

Paul Barford
22nd September 2007, 18:20
Here, an extract from a Time Magazine article on "Myster Pilots" of 12th.May 1958
An olive-drab, two-engined plane without markings or number swept in low and thundering over the Indonesian port of Balikpapan in Borneo. Bombs tumbled out from the opened bomb bay, and the British tanker, San Flaviano, erupted in a series of explosions that broke the vessel's back. An Indonesian corvette, anchored protectively at the harbor mouth, took a direct hit, burst into flames from stem to stern. The Royal Dutch Shell Co. hastily shut down its installations at Balikpapan, signaled oil tankers to clear the area.

[COLOR="Black"]This is the first time I have found any reference to this event which I remember well,as my father was either 2/E or C/Engineer at the time.
Anyone out there with any photograph of the vessel or details?

22nd September 2007, 18:42
San Flaviano,
Built by Cammell Laird & Co. Ltd Birkenhead, England, Yard No. V1242.
Official No. 187459, Launched 12/06/1956, completed September 1956.
Loa 169.4m, Beam 21.2m, Draught 9.14m, 12,277 Gross tons, 18,000 DWT.
Cammell Laird Steam Turbine, 7,500 Shp, 15 knots.
1956-1958 for Eagle Oil Transport Company Ltd.
Sunk, 28/03/1958, bombed in the harbour of Balikpapan at position 01°15.8'S, 116°48.7'E, by aircraft flown by an American Pilot mercenary hired by insurgents fighting the Indonesian Government. No casualties.

For photo , select "Pictures", then "S", scroll down to San Flaviano

22nd September 2007, 19:00
also a mention on these sites too.

Paul Barford
23rd September 2007, 15:18
Many thanks Steve,
now know a little more. At the time I was only six years old, but had been aboard the ship in Middlesborough before she went out to the Far East. Always remember the vessels superintendant (Ken Web)had got me a swing made on the aft boat deck and this was where I played during the ships stay.
Amazing what you can still remember after 49 years!

Have been to Balik Papan in recent years, but no sign of her now although I believe the bow section lay at anchor for many years afterwards.


4th October 2007, 07:28
Info below may be of interest, its an Email conversation with a Deck Apprentice who was on board at the time, read it from the bottom to the top:

Hi Dave,

The San Flaviano was a "H" class Shell design, possibly the last design of tankers with midship accomodation, before aft accomodation only became the custom. We were actually discharging Kuwait crude that we had loaded in Mina al Ahmadi and, whilst it normally took 24 hours to complete under normal circumstances, in this case the storage tanks ashore kept being filled to capacity and by the time of the bombing we had already been there for 4 days. Each night we had to leave the dock to anchor in a "no bombing zone" about one and a half miles out from the refinery and then commence our return in the morning at 7 am. I was on watch and making tea for the !st Mate, in preperation for the return to the dock, when the bomb hit. Kuwait crude is very volatile and the ship was almost empty of oil, but the tanks were full of gas, consequently surpressing the oxygen content and likelihood of an explosion. The tank lids were popping because of the rapid expansion of the gas, not because of explosions.

As far as the Daronia was concerned, since she was full of petrol, she had a miraculous escape. She was anchored about one third of a mile upwind of the San Flaviano and was of the San Vito design, built many years before and equipped with unusually high mid-ship pump room ventilators. By the time she was attacked I was already swimming away from the San Flaviano and vividly remember watching the bomb leave the aircraft, hit the port ventilator, bounce to the starboard ventilator and over the side of the ship without exploding. Some of the best photos of the demise of the San Flaviano, were taken by a deck apprentice on the Daronia.

At the time we were told the pilot was named Pope and flying out of Formosa (Taiwan), in support of an insurrection in the Celebes Islands, by which the Americans hoped to oust Sukarno. As an aside, at that time, no more than six Dutch people could congregate together at any one time, so when a party was held to celebrate the survival of the Captain and Mates the whole lot were arrested, before assurances of each individual's nationality allowed the party to continue !

best wishes - Bingham Macnamara.

Dave & Pat <email> wrote:
Hi Bingham,

Thanks very much for your reply. I think the other ship was the DARONIA not the TARONIA as reported by the US.
The US pilot of the bomber was not captured or executed as the article below states, he was killed in a plane crash in Laos in April 1962 whilst working for the CIA.

What were you loading at Balikpapan and where were you bound?

Extract below is from the Shell Magazine

The Sinking of the SAN FLAVIANO

Many readers will already have learnt form the national prss of the bombing attack on ships in the harbour of Balikpapan on April 28th (1958). The 18000 ton s.t.s san flaviano was hit and set on fire, and the Shell tanker m/s daronia only avoided a similar fate because the bomb which struck her bounced 80 feet off the pump-room skylight and landed in the sea without exploding.

It was a great relief that there were no casualties in the san flaviano. Everyone got away in two of the lifeboats within four minutes, and this must certainly be considered a miraculous escape; since the ship had nearly completed discharge and was full of crude oil gas.

The attack took place in the early morning. The bombs struck the ship amidships on the starboard side, setting the whole of the main deck ablaze. It was against a background of a raging inferno, punctuated by explosions as tank after tank ignited, that the ship’s complement made their escape. The fire on the starboard side meant that only the port lifeboats, amidships and aft, were accessible. The amidships accommodation was completely cut off by flames from the after part of the ship, so the 38 crew members who were aft had to cram themselves into one boat; while the other boat took the seven who were amidships. “What with that bit of warmth behind”, as Chief Offic3er Smith remarked, “The lowering of the amidship’s boat seemed to take infinitely longer than the minute or so which it actually took”. The Second and Third Mates, together with the Apprentice MacNamara, after climbing through a port hole, ran up the sloping foredeck and shinned down the anchor cable to be rescued by the after lifeboat, already down to its gunwales. It can have been no easy matter getting into the boats as the ship was high out of the water, and listing to starboard, and some of the crew had to slide down the falls.

In the after accommodation Second Engineer Barford thought at first that the diesel generator had blown up, Junior Engineer Seddon didn’t realise that anything serious had happened for a minute or two, and he eventually had to jump for it and was picked up by one of the boats. Chief Engineer Wiberg set a splendid example of coolness and self-possession, calmly collecting some of his belongings and arriving in the boat with perfect equanimity.

Captain Bright rowed the amidship’s boat for all his might with his crew of six, including Mrs. Smith, wife of the Chief Officer, who also gallantly took an oar.

Twenty six of the crew sailed for Singapore aboard the Daronia, the same day as the attack, while another 24 followed a few days later in m/s dromus. Both parties flying home by B.O.A.C Britannia.

As testify to the generous assistance and great kindness they received from the B.P.M staff at Balikpapan, and from the officers and crew of the ships that took them to Singapore. At Singapore they were very well treated for by Shell Tankers Ltd., whop helped them to make good some of their losses and to buy some clothes.

We hope that all those who are now safely home are enjoying a good rest after their nerve-racking experience. Captain Bright and Chief Engineer Wilberg, together with five other senior personnel, are still left at Balikpapan, but we hope it won’t be long before they can be flown home.

The last report we have received of the san flaviano is that she is lying almost entirely submersed on the west side of the entrance of Balikpapan Harbour, out of the navigating channel.

Source: Reprinted from Shell Magazine June 1958

The Attack

I am led to believe (as the researcher was thereabouts) the attacker was as follows:

An American commercial pilot, flying for a U.S airline, used to spend his leaves in Hong Kong. It was from there that he hired out his services (having gained experience during the Second World War) to the insurgents fighting the Indonesian Government in a lengthy civil war that had gone on for some years.

He timed his flight to arrive at approximately the same time as the company aircraft arrived on its twice weekly trip from Singapore.

I understand sometime later he was captured and executed by troops loyal to the government.

Regards Dave
From: bingham
To: Dave & Pat
Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2007 10:06 PM
Subject: Re: San Flaviano

Hi Dave,

Thanks for the response and I can confirm I was a Deck Apprentice on the San Flaviano when she was bombed. Just to be technically correct, the majority of the crew took to the two port side lifeboats, whilst three crew members, which included myself, went down the anchor cable and were then picked up by the ship's lifeboats. A launch from the refinery then towed the lifeboats to shore and at no time do I remember a ship named Taronia being involved in our rescue. A few days after the bombing, a Shell tanker, possibly a "T" class evacuated all the crew to Singapore.

I do not recall the Americans admitting responsibility for the bombing and I don't know if Shell/Eagle Oil were ever compensated for the loss of the ship. The foreward half of the ship remained afloat many years later until it was eventually sold, by somebody, for scrap to Japan. The Captain of a Fleet Auxialiary ship visited the port some years later and showed me a photo he took of the floating foreward part.

If I can be of any further help, please do fail to contact me.

best wishes - Bingham Macnamara.

Dave & Pat <email> wrote:
The Eagle Oil Tanker SAN FLAVIANO was sunk on 28 April 1958 in Balikpapan, Indonesia.
The bomb was dropped by a B-26 bomber piloted by William H Beale Jr, a 37 year old ex US AIR FORCE Lt. Col.
At the time of the bombing he was working for the CIA who were carrying out covert operations in support of the Indonesian rebels.
There were no casualties and all crew were rescued by the TARONIA.

Does anyone have information about this incident, were they involved on either ship, did the US admit the incident, did they pay compensation ....?

Information above is from the book "FEET TO THE FIRE, CIA Covert operations in Indonesia 1957~1958" published by the US NAVAL INSTITUTE SPECIAL WARFARE and is therefore taken to be a true account.


I understand that you were a Deck Apprentice on the San Flaviano when she was sunk in Balikpapan?

Do you recall if the Americans ever owned up to doing the bombing or if Eagle Oil/ Shell were recompensed for the loss of the ship?

Dave (ex Eagle Oil/ Shell 1958 ~ 1968)

Chris Button
3rd April 2008, 14:00
This is the first time that I've been able to find out anything about the circumstances of the sinking of the San Flaviano anywhere on the internet, so I was quite glad to have chanced upon this site.

My father was one of the crew, and the sinking took place while I was a small child. It actually happened on my mother's birthday, and while she had heard about the incident on the news it was many days before she heard that dad was safe: quite a worrying time I imagine (I was too young to know anything about it).

Dad told me a few details of what went on when I was younger, but I never knew the full story. He always used to tell people that it was Americans who did the bombing, and I think it may have coloured his thoughts about the U.S. for the rest of his life. I was quite surprised to read the reports that everyone had escaped in the life-boats, because dad had always said that he'd been trapped by a fire and had had to go over the side and swim for it: I wonder if he was one of the guys with Mr Macnamara? I'd love to find out. Dad wasn't the type to make that sort of stuff up for effect.

Sadly, dad (always known as 'Charlie') died many years ago, but I do know that he did one more trip after the San Flaviano went down just to prove to himself that it hadn't scared him. After that, he did all his stoking at the gas-works rather than in the engine room!

I'd really like to hear from anyone who has any more information about the incident.



3rd April 2008, 16:47
There is an article contained in the publication "Sea Shell" which covers the incident. Another Apprentice on board at the time, Ernie Wilkinson, became Master with Shell. Colin

13th April 2008, 11:41
In 1960 I did a trip on the "British Honour " as JOS and shared a watchwith an EDH from Glasgow name eludes me after all this time anyway he was a great Guitar player ...he was on the San Flaviano when she was bombed and I can remember him telling me about it ...later that year I was on thge Shell tanker ANADARA we were at BalikPapan and the stern was sticking out of the water we were at Balikpapan on and off during that trip.just though I,d add that to the thread ...PS his favourite was Jim Reeves "Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone" yors aye Backsplice

10th October 2008, 21:21
Hi was the galley boy on the San Flaviano when she was bombed in Balik Papan harbour, I was peeling spuds on deck when the plane came in and dropped it's load! The Daronia was the other tanker hit but only sustained damage to the engine room vents before their bomb went into the sea with no other damage, they eventually took us to Singapore. We had been drinking with some of the crew of a Indonesian gun boat the night before the early morning raid and the gunboat received a direct hit and I beleive a lot of those poor souls were killed.
We had been told to anchor out in the bay as the refinery had been under attack the prevoise week and the refinery sea plane was sitting on the dock shredded with machine gun fire.
I and the captains steward an Irish chap ahd to get on to the lifeboat and remove the dustbin lids that were in position while the others were lowering the boat down. Quite a scary few minutes as we were lowered unevenly and down alongside the black hull. As the boat hit the water they threw down a rope ladder with wooden rungs which hit poor old paddy on the head and knocked him out for a timeI believe he was the only casualty we suffered.
The tender from the refinery wouldn't come out all the way to us and we had to row to it before it eventually did tow us! As we were rowing for it the aircraft came in low once again and straifed the tanker from end to end we could hear the bullets bouncing off the decks, then the tanker blew up with a mighty bang and flames and smoke were rising hundreds iof feet into the air.
I did once see a picture in a newspaper of the tanker in flames and only wish I could get a copy now! I do have some photo's of myself and some crew members arriving at Singapore docks and then we were taken to the seamans mission Connel House.

Kyle Castro
30th November 2008, 00:51
The bell and some other objects were recovered from the wreck and returned to eagle Oil headquarters and given to one of the Directors of the Company.

They have been passed down in his family for a couple of generations now.

The bell as an honoured place, but is seldom rung- its original clapper is still there. A brasspannel recounts the facts and history of the ship

The family has a series of photos, from launch to sea triles to smoking wreck, to burned out hulk
If I can figgure out how to post them I will

K urgess
30th November 2008, 12:13
Welcome aboard, Kyle.
I'm sure the crew is looking forward to seeing them.
If you need any help please just ask a moderator.
Enjoy the voyage.

7th May 2009, 01:24
Not sure if this thread is still being watched, but some of this is a good read for me........I know of someone who was on the San Flav when it went down......
......after 51 years now, I think some of the memories have faded but still might be roused if I print out some posts for the Chief who is now retired and living out in the country in Canada.......

For the request for images, I've found these ones from Kyle Castro ( which may be of interest......

Paul Barford
8th May 2009, 11:32
Not sure if this thread is still being watched, but some of this is a good read for me........I know of someone who was on the San Flav when it went down......
......after 51 years now, I think some of the memories have faded but still might be roused if I print out some posts for the Chief who is now retired and living out in the country in Canada.......

For the request for images, I've found these ones from Kyle Castro ( which may be of interest......

Mant thanks for the link to Kyle's photo's. These are the first I've ever seen of the incident.

14th November 2010, 20:59
I know that there may not be many left from the San Flaviano, but I have a chapter to close now.....

Today, November 14 2010, some two weeks before the completion of his 86th year, my father, Chief Eng Wiberg left us after a breakdown in his otherwise fine health for most of his life. His passing is a sad event in the family, and leaves us all with a huge hole. We respectfully mourn....

15th November 2010, 05:34
My sincere condolences Rifleman, it's never easy no matter how old; may he rest in Peace.

14th December 2010, 16:21
When the San Flaviano was bombed and sank I was the gally boy on her sister ship the San Fernando. I later sailed with a numbert of the crew that were actually on her when she was sunk and they all said how well they were treated by all the authorities concerned who helped them. I was told that the Ist. Oficers wife who was on board at the time was pregnant and later gave birth to a little girl was was christened Falvia or a name very similar. All the best John Evans (retired)

20th March 2013, 12:14
Hi All

My Dad, Frank (deceased) was Chief Officer when the Flaviano went down. My Mum was on board and is still alive aged 87. We have an album at home with all kind of cuttings plus some of me aged 5. My brothers middle name is Flavian. Born Feb 1959.

20th March 2013, 17:20
Hi Frank and Joyce,
Apologies to your mum and brother Flaivan. I understood that she had a little girl Flavia, but it was 55 years ago.I sailed with the Eagle Oil for four years and almost 2 years when Shell bought them. Happy days.Give my regards to your mum. There must still be a few alive who remember the incident, I sailed with a few of them later on othe Eagle Tankers but i cannot remember their names
All the best John Albert Evans

20th March 2013, 19:18
Hi John

My brother is called Frank with a middle name of Flavian. I am seeing my Mum tomorrow so I will pass on your regards. My Dad Frank died in 1969. Great to hear from you. She will be pleased.

Thanks Sharon Smith

7th May 2013, 20:11
I was 2nd Mate on the Daronia at the time of this incident. I have photos of the damaged pump room ventilators and of the San Flaviano on fire. Our only casualty was a chinese crew member who by ill chance was hit in the buttocks by the whistling device on the nose cap of the bomb. I remember the discomfort he was in taking him ashore for treatment.
The bomb did in fact explode in the water after passing through the ventilators.
My other recollection is of the skipper blasting away at the plane with the ship's .38!

8th May 2013, 10:48
Greetings creelchiel and welcome to SN. Bon voyage.

len mazza
28th May 2013, 08:26
During '64/65 Iwas 2nd Stwd.on the Hadriana,Capt.J Bright Master.
He was a pleasure to work for,took interest in the crews wellbeing.,