July 19, 1979
Oil tankers collide in Caribbean Sea
On this day in 1979, two gigantic supertankers collide off the island of Little Tobago in the Caribbean Sea, killing 26 crew members and spilling 280,000 tons of crude oil into the sea. At the time, it was the worst oil-tanker accident in history and remains one of the very few times in history when two oil tankers have collided.
It was early evening when the two large carriers of crude oil collided. The Atlantic Empress had 275,000 tons of oil aboard; the Aegean Captain was carrying 200,000 tons. After the collision, fires broke out all over the Atlantic Empress and on the bow of the Aegean Captain. The Aegean managed to control the fire and then was towed toward Trinidad. Some oil was spilled during the towing, but a fair portion of the cargo was transferred successfully to other vessels.
The Atlantic Empress, however, had more difficulties. While it was still burning, it was towed toward the open sea. Oil continued to leak, burning on top of the ocean waters. Four days after the collision, with the fire still out of control, an explosion rocked the ship. There was another explosion the next day. Still, efforts to stop the fire and prevent more oil from spilling into the ocean continued. On July 29, 10 days after the fire began, another powerful explosion ended hopes of containing the blaze. On August 3, the Atlantic Empress sunk to the ocean bottom, leaving only a burning oil slick behind.
An other news paper article :
Supertankers Towed To Port; Cause Of Collision Is Sought
CROWN POINT. Tobago
(UPI) - Two crippled, fire-swept supertankers today were being towed to port where officials hoped to determine how much of their 3.5 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Caribbean.
The 292.666-ton Atlantic Empress and the 210,257-ton Aegean Captain, both Liberian-registered and Greek-owned, collided during a tropical rainstorm at dusk Thursday off Crown Point, between the Islands of Tobago and Grenada.
Twenty-nine people - all but one from the Atlantic Empress - were missing and presumed dead. Fiftyone others, including three women passengers, survived Officials at first feared that all of the 3.5 million barrels of oil aboard both tankers had leaked into the Caribbean, which would have made the accident the world's worst oil spill,
A last-minute maneuver by the Aegean Captain apparently minimized the impact of the collision,re-sulting in damage to only some of the ship's storage holds. Officials believe most of the oil from Atlantic Empress was burned off during the conflageratlon.
The cause of the accident was not yet determined.
Piskopianos Christos, the second officer In command of the bridge on the Aegean Captain, said Sunday that he noticed the other ship suddenly just before the collision and, according to the old law
of the sea. Immediately started turning left In the hope the Atlantic Empress would do the same so they would miss each other.
"It was too late. They didn't react to this condition," Chrlstos said.
The right part of the bow of the Aegean Captain struck a glancing blow to the Atlantic Empress midway on Us left side and both ships burst Into flame. The captains of both vessels immediately gave orders to abandon ship.
"It we had rammed the other ship straight Into the side, there would have been a big explosion and a 100 per* cent loss," Christos said.
The Atlantic Empress, still burning and listing, was being towed by two German tugboats. The Aegean captain was also under tow but has a skeleton crew of about 10 officers aboard trying to repair the damage.
No one will know exactly how much oil spilled until the remainder is pumped out. Officials estimate It is probably less than one third of the total combined cargo, about
a million barrels or less.
Whatever spilled out is not drifting ashore anywhere for the moment but merely floating around on the current in the Tobago channel, where three planes and four boats were spraying dispersant chemicals in an at-tempt to break it up.
The evacuation from the Aegean Captain was orderly and resulted in the loss of only one life, but panic broke out on the Atlantic Empress, which was enveloped in flames, and crew and passengers jumped Into the flaming sea in a mad scramble.
The Atlantic Empress was en route from the Persian. Gulf to Beaumont. Texas, fully loaded with Iranian crude for the Mobil Corp. It was supposed to be beading
west but for Inexplicable reasons appeared to be sailing south.