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Bombay Explosion

The Bombay Explosion (or Bombay Docks Explosion) occurred on April 14, 1944 in the Victoria Dock of Bombay (now Mumbai) when a ship carrying a mixed cargo including around 1,400 tons of explosive caught fire and was destroyed in two giant blasts, scattering debris, sinking surrounding ships and killing around 800 people.

The S.S. Fort Stikine was a freighter, built in 1942 in Prince Rupert, British Columbia under a lend-lease agreement; she displaced 7,142 grt. Sailing from Birkenhead on February 24 via Gibraltar, Port Said and Karachi, she arrived at Bombay on April 12. She carried explosives, munitions and other war material including Spitfires; an odd load of other cargo such as raw cotton bales, oil barrels, timber and scrap iron; and gold bullion in 12.73 kg bars valued at 1-2 million. One officer described the cargo as "just about everything that will either burn or blow up". The vessel berthed and was still awaiting unloading on April 14.

In the mid-afternoon, around 14.00, the crew were alerted to a fire onboard. Burning somewhere in the No.2 hold the crew, dockside fire teams and fireboats were unable to extinguish the conflagration, despite pumping over 900 tons of water into the ship, or find the source due to the dense smoke. At 15.50 the order to abandon ship was given and sixteen minutes later there was a great explosion, cutting the ship in two, breaking windows over 12 km away. At the docks around two square miles were ablaze in a 800 metre arc around the ship and eleven neighbouring vessels were sunk or sinking, and the emergency personnel at the site suffered heavy losses. Attempts to fight the fire were dealt a further blow when a second explosion from the ship swept the area at 16.34. Away from the docks people suspected a surprise Japanese attack and many fled the city. It took three days to bring the fire under control and later 8,000 men toiled for seven months to remove around 500,000 tons of debris and bring the docks back into action.

The official death toll was 740, including 476 military personnel, with around 1,800 people injured, unofficial tallies run much higher. In total twenty-seven other vessels were sunk or damaged in both Victoria dock and the neighbouring Prince's Dock.

See also: list of disasters.

Last updated: 08-28-2005 12:18:33
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