Wednesday, 20 January 2016


LONDON, June 22, 9.30 a.m.
The explosion of a boiler tube on a Russian steamer at Jenotsjevsk, killed astoker. Passengers then became panic-stricken, and fought for the possession ofthe boats, the davits of which broke, andthey fell into the water. Many of the passengers sprang over-board. Six bodies have been recovered.
LONDON, February 14.
The British steamer Aboyne has beenlost on the River Tugus. in Portugal. Thedisaster is attributed to an explosion offiredamp in the coal hole. Five personswere seriously injured by the explosion,which damaged the hull so seriously thatthe vessel shortly afterwards sank, not,however, before the crew were saved.
Firedamp is flammable gas found in coal mines. It is the name given to a number of flammable gases, especially methane. It is particularly found in areas where the coal is bituminous.
It was reported (and commented) that there was nothing particularly flammable on board the Waratah. However, this extract illustrates the significance of an explosion caused by gases produced by coal. This might very well have occurred on the Waratah, but on a larger scale.

..................the steamer's boilerhas been in a very bad state for sometime past, leaking badly, and I havealways predicted an accident; on Satur-day last a patch was placed on theboiler, but still it leaked ; this morningwe left Parramatta, myself, the fireman, and a deck hand, the boilercarrying 50 lbs. of steam ; and aftercoming to the wharf I filled up theboiler only three-quarters full, as itwas priming, I banked up the fire,left the furnace door open, theguage showing from' 30 to 40 lbs.  pressure,' and we proceeded on thewharf for cargo ; we had just finishedputting on board half a ton of lead,and had returned for more cargo,when the boiler exploded with a loudnoise, blowing pieces of iron in everydirection and sinking the vessel ; I amconfident that the piece put in onSaturday was the piece blown out.
Boiler explosions were not uncommon and if we recall, during the maiden voyage fire, December, 1908, a large piece of burning coal was discovered on the casing of a boiler. This could very well have resulted in the scenario described above.
VANCOUVER, Tuesday.-The steamer Chiriqui, of the Pacific Steam-ship Company, is reported to havebeen lost in the Gulf of Panama byan explosion of her boilers. Thefate of those on board is unknown.
Again, boilers identified as a weak link on steamers resulting in explosions.
Reuter's correspondent at DunKirk says that the explosion blewa great hole in the engine room.
The passengers were strolling ondeck or sitting in the loungeswhen the explosion occurred. Awoman passenger said : "Smokespread over the ship and thedecks near the middle of the shipwere all buckled up." 
In this case it was surmised that the steamer struck floating dynamite or a 'mine'. It is important to note that the 'decks near the middle of the ship were all buckled up'. If a similar catastrophe had befallen the Waratah the ensuing damage could have resulted in the steamer 'breaking her back'and going down very rapidly indeed.

Fire Effects on the Steamer Netherton.

..... January 10 this year had taken in a large quantity of case oil at Aroe Bay, Sumatra,for Australian ports. The cargo, however, was not destined to reach its destination, for a fire broke out below, and in the space of a few minutes had established a firm hold, burning furiously. Indeed, it did not take long for the ship to become "red hot," all hands making their way ashore.
The Iron beams, after reaching a white heat, soon began to bend inwards, the plates buckling meantime and following the lead of the beam.
An explosion disturbed the decks. Gradually the fire burnt itself out as well as most of the cargo.
This extract illustrates the intense heat generated by fires on board with the ship becoming 'red hot'. It is not difficult to imagine that if such a fire had broken out on the Waratah, progressing to this degree, the very structure and integrity of her hull hung in the balance until 'the lights of the ship disappeared after the smoke cleared'. 

Launceston. April 24.
The steamer Waratea, 512 tons,belonging to the White Star line,with Captain Roy Holyman in command, had a narrow escape , last night en route from Launceston to Melbourne. She left here yesterday with 1500 bales of straw, 300 bagsof coal, and 1000 ft. of timber, andpassed through Tamar Heads at 9o'clock. Some time after mid night, when about 40 mike distant,smoke was discovered issuing fromthe fore hold, where the straw wasstowed. It was found that the cargowas on fire. All efforts to extinguishthe flames proved unsuccessful, andthe captain decided to return to theTamar. The crew worked hardpumping water into the blazinghold, but despite their efforts thefire steadily increased in strength.
A similar decision could very well have been taken by Captain Ilbery, attempting to return to Durban for help. Note: pumping water into holds had a significantly destabilising effect on steamers.
The Tamar Heads were reached at5 p.m. to-day, and the steamer wasbeached at the back of Middle Island in the river, about 6 milesfrom the heads. She was filled withwater, and the fire was extinguished. To-day the tug Wybia, conveyeda centrifugal pump to the 'steamer,and as the Waratea does not seemto have been much damaged, it isexpected that she will be refloatedand brought to the wharf. TheWaratea was not insured. The crewhad a very anxious time beforereaching the heads, for the namesspread rapidly, and in fighting theflames the men were hampered by dense columns of smoke.
In this case so much water was pumped into the ship she sank - having to be re-floated after the disaster. Smoke was the number one enemy in fighting fires on steamers, and no matter how skilled and practiced crew was, very little could be achieved tackling a crisis in 'dense columns of smoke'.
A fire occurred at Woolloomooloo Bayon Saturday morning, when part of thecargo of the steamer Varzin wasburnt, and the hold had to beflooded to save the balance. What threatened to be a serious fire was only kept in limits, and ultimately subdued, by the combined and energetic efforts of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the Harbour Trust firemen,detachments of blue jackets from Garden Is-land, and the crew of the steamer. The out-break is supposed to have resulted from spontaneous combustion in a shipment of copra.  (dried kernel of coconut)
The Varzin, one of the German-AustralianSteamship Company's fleet, of 4470 tons, underthe command of Captain Tadsen, arrived inport from Brisbane on Friday, and berthed atthe company's wharf on the eastern side ofWoolloomooloo Bay. She was to have leftearly in the week, and was loading copra andwool. The greater quantity of the Sydneycargo had been shipped, and it was amongstthis that the fire occurred. The vessel wasalso receiving bunker coal from the colliersIllaroo and Wallaroo.
The outbreak was discovered about 8.35 byone of the crew, and Captain Tadsen immediately had the fire appliances of the vessel brought into operation. The crew got to work with a will, and in a few moments a coupleof lines of hose were pouring water into theburning hold. Sergeant Dawe, who was onduty on tho wharf, rang up the fire brigade.In a few minutes a steamer from Darlinghurstarrived, followed by the motor engine fromheadquarters, and several steamers from theother city stations. The official returns showthat there were five engines, one motor engine, and 65 men in attendance. Superintendent Webb was soon on the scene, anddirected operations.
When the firemen boarded the vessel they found dense volumes of smoke issuing from the after hatchway. Donning smoke helmets, two of tho men descended the hold, and endeavoured to locate the outbreak. The smoke,however, was too dense, and the heat toogreat, to permit of a close examination, and after vainly trying to penetrate the darkness the men were forced to return to the deck.
This was the reality of dealing with progressive fires on board steamers. Even wearing smoke helmets did not help when the 'smoke was too dense' and 'the heat too great'. In effect well-trained crew rendered useless.

In their brief stay below they found that thefire was principally confined to the copracargo in the lower hold on the port side. On this being reported to Superintendent Webb and Captain Tadsen they decided that the best way to deal with the outbreak was to flood the after hold. This was a matter of comparative ease, asthe after hold, where the fire was located,was separated by a substantial bulkhead fromthe rest of the vessel, and was also prettywell filled with cargo. On this course beingdecided on, Mr. Webb brought his engines tothe edge of the wharf, and in a few minutesfire of the largest steamers in the city brigadewere pumping sea water into the burningvessel.
In this case, as it was in many such examples, pumping huge volumes of water into the burning holds / sections was the only solution. Fortunately in this instance, port assistance made all the difference. Imagine a similar scenario playing out on the Waratah, at sea, with her limited freeboard diminishing by the minute!!

The firemen were speedily reinforced bythe Harbour Trust Brigade, under CaptainPritchard, and a detachment of blue jacketsfrom Garden Island, under Lieutenant Jeffer-son. The Harbour Trust men came on thescene in the fire-float Powerful, and in a fewminutes four lines of hose from tho steamer'sstrong pumps were added to the batterypouring water into the hatchway. The navyalso contributed their quota. The handymen brought with them their Merryweatherland engine from Garden Island. They had itlashed on to a water tender, which was moor-ed alongside tho Varzin. Two lines of hoseswere worked by the blue Jackets, who also as-sisted the firemen on the ship by directing thebranches down the hold, a very disagreeablejob, on account of the pungent smoke whichissued in dense masses from the burningcopra.
It is no wonder Captain Ilbery tried to reach Durban where such an extent of fire-fighting assistance could have made all the difference,

When all the engines and other applianceswere working there were 20 streams of waterbeing poured into the vessel. This represent-ed about 4000 gallons a minute, and as therewas a large quantity of cargo in the hold, itwas not long before the water made its presence felt (no kidding). The smoke which poured from the open hatches slowly but surely lost its density, and after two hours' pumping only steam ascended. This meant that the fire had been extinguished, and orders were given to cease work. Again the smoke helmet was brought into use, and this time a fireman was able to make a more thorough examination. He reported that all trace of fire had vanished,and that the water was up to the spar-deck,a distance of 21 ft from the lower deck. Thecovers were taken off the ventilators, and ina short space of time the hold was free fromsmoke and steam. It was then seen that thesurmise of the men who first went down wasright, and that the fire had been on the portside of the lower hold.
If water had been up to the spar deck on the Waratah, there is absolutely no doubt that the 'lights of the large steamer' would have 'disappeared once the smoke cleared'.

No comments: