April 20, 1951: Fog Causes Huge Tanker Crash in Gulf

| April 19, 2017 @ 9:50 am

On April 19, 1951, the Standard Oil tanker ESSO Greensboro departed from Corpus Christi, Texas with a full load of crude. It was bound for a port on the Atlantic Coast. Three days earlier, the tanker ESSO Suez had departed Baltimore destined for Corpus Christi.

Early on the morning of April 20, both ships were in the Gulf of Mexico south of the Louisiana coast about 200 miles south of Morgan City. Around 3:30 a.m., both vessels encountered a shallow but dense fog bank. Visibility was about 200-300 yards in the dense fog. There was a small swell and a light northerly wind.

The watch officer on the ESSO Suez ordered the radar readied and the fog signals to be sounded. He called the Master to the bridge. Shortly after 4 a.m., the Master observed a target on the radar about two points off the starboard bow and 6 miles distant. The two ships had each other in sight on their respective ship’s radars. Both ships altered their courses to give each other a wider berth, but they continued at full speed (about 15 knots.)

About five minutes later, the Master on the Suez observed the target four points on the starboard bow and three miles distant. Course was changed again. The second officer was positioned on the starboard wing of the bridge to listen for fog signals and keep lookout. At 4:22, the second officer heard a fog signal and observed a red light10 degrees off the starboard bow a few seconds later. Collision was imminent.

A hard left wheel was ordered and engines stopped, but it was too late. A few seconds later, the two ships collided. Fire broke out and the two vessels were engulfed in flame from burning oil. The Suez cut into the Greensboro for a distance of sixty feet. The ships were in contact for the next thirty minutes. Three explosions occurred on the Greensboro, which became completely engulfed in flame. The Suez was sprayed with burning oil. Burning oil in the water created huge flames that prevented crews from fighting the fires. The Suez finally cleared itself of the wreck, suffering only a twenty foot gash in its hull and was able to begin fighting the fires.

Only five crewmembers escaped the Greensboro. The entire bridge crew was killed. One man died on the Suez. A total of 32 men perished.

An investigation revealed that both crews were at fault for not reducing speed to moderate as soon as the fog was encountered and for failing to stop their engines and navigate with caution when it was determined that they were approaching another ship.

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Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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