The Weekly Reflektion 42/2022

During wartime and busy periods rules and regulations are often relaxed to ‘get the job done’.

How do we ensure we focus on the right things when the context of our operations change?

On 6th December 1917, during the First World War, two ships collided, causing an explosion which killed at least 1782 people and demolished large parts of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Halifax was an assembly point for convoys crossing the Atlantic under the protection of British cruisers and destroyers. These convoys were vulnerable to attacks from German U-boats trying to stop vital war supplies reaching Europe from North America. In addition, all neutral ships bound for North America from Europe were required to enter Halifax for inspection, making Halifax a very busy harbour. The SS Imo, a Norwegian freighter, had returned from Belgium to pick up a cargo of coal. It arrived for the neutral inspection, and after loading the coal was delayed from leaving until the next morning because the anti-submarine nets had been raised for the night.

The Mont Blanc was fully loaded with high explosives but had arrived too late to enter the harbour before the anti-submarine nets had been raised. Before the war, ships with dangerous cargos were not allowed into the harbour, but these rules had been relaxed due to the risk of submarines outside the harbour.The entrance to the harbour was through a narrow strait, appropriately called ‘The Narrows’. Vessels were expected to keep right, passing oncoming vessels on their port side. 

The SS Imo had been given clearance to leave the harbour and was travelling above the 5-knot speed limit to make up for lost time. The Imo met another incoming vessel travelling on the ‘wrong’ side of the Narrows and had to change course. The pilots on board each boat agreed to pass on the right. The Mont Blanc was entering the harbour and encountered theImo, apparently on the ‘wrong’ side of the shipping lane. There ensued some blasts on the whistles of both boats, but neither could change course due to other traffic. Both ships stopped their engines. A low-speed collision appeared inevitable and as the ships approached each other, a crowd began to gather to watch. 

The vessels collided at low speed, and the damage to both boats was not severe. However, the Mont Blanc had barrels on the deck containing Benzol, and these toppled over and broke open. When the vessels disengaged, sparks ignited the benzoland the fire spread on the Mont Blanc. Realizing the consequences of the fire on the ship’s load, the crew abandoned ship, which beached near the centre of the town. The harbour authorities were trying to attach lines to the vessel to tow it away from the town when the vessel exploded.Over 1,600 people were killed instantly and 9,000 were injured, more than 300 of whom later died. Every building within a 2.6-kilometre (1.6 mi) radius was destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of people who had been watching the fire from their homes were blinded and the blast wave shattered the windows in front of them. Mont-Blanc’s forward 90-mm gun landed approximately 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) north of the explosion site.

In busy periods, and in wartime, rules and regulations are often relaxed, or just ignored. Europe is trying to maximise gas production and trying to protect important infrastructure. Surface vessels and planes are protecting our supply lines. How do we ensure the safety level of our operations is not compromised?

Reflekt AS