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Deep tank tragedy Port Swettenham.
Deep tank tragedy Port Swettenham.
As some of you may have seen from my previous threads the Benwyvis did have several maiden voyage problems.
Homeward bound we had discovered in s'pore that some of our deep tanks which were of mild steel were possibly not going to pass the surveyors examination for carriage or edible oils.
We had 10 deep tanks of which 4 were constructed of s/steel, some of the mild steel ones had traces of red lead paint in/on the steel ( we were not sure if this had appeard in the rolling of the plate prior to fabrication ) what ever it was a devil to get off/out of the steel .
We had tried in S'pore to clean them with Wongs Virgins but hey could not move the coating ,it came to Swettenham and Yu Lees Virgins they mixed two types of paint stripper and went to work.
If you can imagine in No 1 hatch a very fine and flared bow makes for for very narrow shaped tanks ,in this hatch we had 4 tanks two in after end were s/steel and two ford which were the akward shapes were mild steel, the tanks were fitted out with bamboo and twine scaffolding to allow the workerd acess to all parts of the tanks.
These two tanks also had a upper and lower level which were seperated by a large oval hatch (6'x8') This intermeadate deck allowed palletised cargo to be loaded without too much loss of space.
I had been for smoko and i was monitoring loading of latex in the two after tanks in the hatch, as i approached the hatch on the long focsle the foreman ran to me and shouted big problems staff sick and ill in tank, I shouted down the hatch for no one to go down the tank i ran all the way back to the accomodation and shouted to the Bosun Andy Daniels to get chippy Joe Crichton and the lads to get up to No 1 and plumb a derrick over the ford tanks , I climbed my way up through the accomdation to the boat deck for the BA ( it was kept under lock and key to deter certain Suez canel types and of course it was in new teak lockers just installed in HK, The C/O had the keys and he had gone ashore with old man for lunch at the Port View with the local Ben Staff) .Well the next thing the fire axe glass panel went in and out came the lumber jacks axe ,straight through the lid of this locker next hit took off the padlock hasp.
I grabbed the BA and a spare tank and ran fro No 1 hatch,by the time I got there wully Coutts !st leckie was there and he helped me put on the gear,all the time I was trying to control my breathing ,I got down over the hatch combing and into the tank, i brought out four people (girls and boys in thier teens ) .Climbing out up the ladder and holding onto them was like trying to grip an eel ,I went down for two more and my air ran out ,the last but one had fallen down into the lower level which was about 6/8' below the intermeadate deck and had cut his head badly, as I was coming up I took off the mask and shouted my air was out and for the spare cylinder by this time many hands had appeared and the second mate Jim Edgar shouted back forget the air get them out .
On my last climb out the BA got stuck on some whamee and I couldnt move up nor down on the ladder.
By this time I was well and truly knackered and going dizzie from the fumes .
The next thing I remember I was on the deck and mouth to mouth was being given to couple of the kids beside me, Chippy Crichton had come down the scaffolding cut me loose and put his head between my legs and backside and propelled me out of the hatch onto the deck with this malay in my arms.
The tragedy was, that night two of the cleaners died in hospital.Luckly the others were OK.
The lesson learnt of those days was not enough ventilation, do not mix products that you do not know how they will react.
I was the rest of the day off to recover and to cover that nifgt on deck with the remaing deep tank loading.
My day was not over when i came on nights the Mate Tom Mackenzie (Tam The Ram)said the C/o George Reid wanted to see me . I thought Oh! s**t his prize and joy teak locker was in peices and was in for hell. I went up to see George no mention of the locker no mention of what had happened that morning but just to tell me to check the two ford tanks that all debris was out of them and to tell the duty engineers so they could reconnect the strum pipes , as we were going to ballast them for the homeward trip .
What he very kindy forgot to tell me was during theafternoon they had used caustic all over the tanks as a last resort to try and remove the red lead.
When I went in the tanks wadeing in and getting splashed on my bare back with what i thought was water when my back began to burn and my finger nails started to go soft and curl i realised it was caustic.
I climbed out of the tank and hatch passed the mates cabin door where he ahd the s/o were having a beer , I was shouting at the top of my voice i will kill the b*****d ,the s/o set off after me and crabed me on the passenger deck and grappled down the alleyway to the saloon pantry door and dragged me out onto the boat deck we both then ran for the swiming pool and jumped in .
Little did we know that some of the passengers were up on deck waiting to go in for dinner. Two of them were Ben Line related Mrs Macleod retired doctor and mother of the company Chairman Rodrick Macleod the lady as a doctor was there to accompany the retired director A.J.(Algie) Hill . Algie came across to the pool railings and looked ant Jim and I fighting and me going off at the C/o ,he asked if anything was wrong and Jim replied no sir he has been stung by bees. Stung by bees was not fare wrong.
The next day covered in calomine lotion I went to see George and we had a few words many of which on any other occassion would have registerded for a Double DR .
George appologised and I told him a few home truths ( in for a penny in for a pound) I later sailed with him on the BenHope here he had changed somewhat.
The directors of the tank cleaning co gave me access to thier memebership at the Port Swettenham golf club ( not sure if it was called Selangor) . Guess what never got the chance to take them up on it.
There are a few more tales on this voyage to come that is if you are not fed up.
Keep her steady
Thanks for a well told story, Ian, it described a situation that you dread happening, so well.
We used to get the deep tanks prepared in Penang for loading latex in P. Swettenham, where everything was scraped then coated in molten candle wax by shore labour. It used to look like some sort of glittering fairyland when dried & finished.
The powers that be always booked the upper port Deep tank and lower stbd , or vice versa, just to make life difficult ie - getting suitable general cargo loaded in the tank below the booked latex tank in prior ports so you didn't lose the space. It usually made for interesting stability figures/lists for a few days ! But I suppose that's what made the Mate's job interesting. (This was the 'Calcutta Run' with Jardines, by the way so Ben line ships were frequent neighbors of ours)
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