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This week it’s boat fire safety week so we had a dig through our archives in the hopes of finding some information about boat fires we had attended in the past. After some searching, we came across an incident report for a fire on the S.S. Lona from all the way back in 1956!

S.S. Lona listing to one side

On 8 September 1956 at 7pm the oil-fired cargo ship, S.S. Lona, arrived in the King George Dock, Hull, carrying pit wood and fuel oil. However less than 12 hours later many areas of the ship would be completely destroyed or severely damaged by fire.

The Greaser (a crew member responsible for seeing to the boilers) stated that he visited the boiler room at approximately 4am and saw that everything was in order. However, when he returned sometime later, he stated that the room was ablaze. The night watchman on duty at the time reported excessive smoke and sparks coming from the ships funnel at around 5:15am, however when he shouted down to the engine room, he received no reply. At 5:45am the Kingston Upon Hull Fire Brigade received an emergency call from a Police Constable who saw “flames issuing from the vessel” while on patrol. Four Major Pumps, an Emergency Tender, Wireless Tender (command unit with a radio) and Fire Boat were immediately dispatched.

As crews approached the docks, the station officers reported seeing flames from the funnel reaching 20ft in the air. Upon arrival the chief engineer informed the offices that the ship was in a dangerous condition and there was a risk of an explosion. The pumps were immediately set to work on the bridge and the boiler room. At 6am the Deputy Chief Officer sent a message requesting the Foam Tender. At this point the Chief Officer took charge of the situation, seeing thick black smoke emerging from the engine room skylight he gave the order for 200 gallons of foam compound to be prepared for an “attack on the burning oil”. By 8:30am the ship had a dangerous list to port and the captain of the Lona who had been “overcome by smoke” re-joined the ship in co-operation with the Chief Officer. All personnel were notified that if the ship continued to list, they were to abandon ship. At 9am the fires in the bridge, engine room and the propeller shaft tunnel had been extinguished. However, black oily smoke and terrific heat continued to emerge from the boiler room and deck plates above the bunker began to buckle.

Firefighters on the deck of the ship
Firefighters on the deck of the ship

Due to the list and the immense wait of the ship one of the steel hawsers mooring the ship to the quay snapped. The captain estimated the list was now at 25°, fearing the worst the Chief Officer ordered the temporary withdrawal of personnel which lasted for 40 minutes. The Dock Master was concerned that if the ship could capsize and block one of the Docks, and that thousands of floating pit props would be scattered across the docks causing damage and obstructions to other ships. Both the Dock Master and Surveyor agreed that the ship needed to be moved to a different berth, however this would take at least an hour during which time all firefighting operations would have to be put on hold, the Captain and Chief were opposed to the idea. It was finally decided that the only way to extinguish the remaining fires that had now become inaccessible was to scuttle the ship. Firefighters cut 9-inch square holes in the hull of the ship and flooded them with jets of water, the water level in the dock was lowered to 8ft in an attempt to speed up the process. By 3pm the ship had settled, and in the process had taken a list to starboard extinguishing the remaining fires. A team of Dockers were recruited to unload the remaining cargo, and at 11:03pm on Monday 10 September the Chief officer put through a “stop message” to Brigade Control.

Fire damage below deck
Fire damage below deck

After the fire the Greaser was questioned about the events leading up to the incident. It was normal practice on a ship like the Lona to shut down all but one oil burners to keep enough steam for dock working, the Greaser said that everything was in order when he visited the room at 4am. However, there was some doubt weather additional burners were lit when he visited the boiler room. He also stated that when he returned to the room and found it was on fire, he attempted to shut down the oil supply to the burners but failed.

It was decided that the fire began in the boiler room between 4am and 5am on 9 September, and that it may have been caused by a flashback from the boilers which ignited the oil supply.

Most boats and ships use slightly more advanced engines nowadays however the risk of fire remains. So, we’ve compiled a list of some helpful tips to keep you safe weather you’re on the high seas, a canal or the King George Docks. Follow the link below to find out more.