Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks: Pacific Glory

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Pacific Glory

The luckiest escape that the Island's shores have ever had from a shipwreck was that of the 43,000 ton Liberian super-tanker Pacific Glory, which carried a crew of 42 and 70,000 gallons of African crude oil.

At 9pm on Friday October 23rd 1970, the massive Pacific Glory was travelling up the Channel headed for Rotterdam, and was about 6 miles off St. Catherine's Point when the 46,000 ton tanker Allegro veered straight towards them to avoid crashing with a third ship. The tankers were so vast that, without a spare mile to manoeuvre in, it was impossible for the collision to be avoided, despite attempts to change course and the engines stopping, the Allegro's bow ploughed into the Pacific Glory's side. The Allegro continued to Fawley near Southampton, where she was placed under arrest.

The Pacific Glory then drifted slowly towards Ventnor as the collision had cut through the fuel pipes to the engine room. At 10:30 the escaping fuel exploded, killing 5 in an 80 foot sheet of flame that spread through the decks and caused further explosions. Oil began leaking from the starboard side of the ship, igniting on the sea below. The remaining crew abandoned ship by jumping into
the sea, many to be burnt in the fires over the waves. By this time, 13 men had perished.

At 11pm the fiery inferno was 3 miles off Ventnor as fire-fighting tugs from Fawley arrived on the scene, along with Royal Navy ships, the Island's lifeboats, hovercraft and helicopters taking part in "Operation Solfire", rescuing the 29 survivors, who were rushed to Haslar Naval Hospital suffering from severe burns and swallowed oil. During the night the tugs managed to put out the water on the sea and struggled to put out the fire onboard.

The Pacific Glory was then headed to Sandown Bay by several tugs, hoping to ground her in the Nab Shoal near the Nab Tower as her stern began to sink beneath the waves.

Then the fire broke out again as a thick cloud of smoke rose several miles high, and the ship was abandoned one mile off Dunnose Point. Sandown Bay, the busiest on the Island with its 5 miles of pure, golden sand was in danger. 500 men gathered on the bay armed with 8,000 gallons of detergent, with the coastguard and RSPCA patrolling the beaches. Oil slicks began pouring from the Pacific Glory, but fortunately ships spraying detergent near the wreck prevented them from conglomerating and threatening the shore. The firemen onboard fought with the blaze all through Saturday and Sunday, and by Sunday afternoon it seemed the danger had passed.

When everyone was beginning to feel relief, a new danger arose when the wind rose to a force 8 gale. One of the ships near the wreck, the Beaulieu containing 40 reporters, almost went down, saved only by HMS Zulu. The tug Harry Sharman was forced by the gale straight into the base of Culver Cliff1. Despite this, the Pacific Glory remained in one piece, and on Monday Morning newspaper headlines declared her "The Ship That Would Not Die".

That morning members of the Portsmouth Fire Brigade boarded her and finally extinguished the fire. The ship was then handed over to a salvage team, and from Thursday the oil was pumped out from her into smaller tankers alongside.

The biggest danger to the Island's shores was over.

MV Nisha

Although the events of the MV Nisha stay in Isle of Wight waters fortunately did not involve the danger of a shipwreck, it demonstrates a worrying implication for the future.

On the 21st December 2001, the MV Nisha, a 500ft ship owned by the Great Eastern Shipping Company, was carrying its cargo of 26,000 tonnes of raw sugar to the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery at Silvertown, east London, due to arrive on the 22nd.

At 8am it was intercepted in international waters off the Sussex coast by the Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland, which continued to escort it until the 22nd, and boarded by the Royal Navy and the Metropolitan Police's Anti-Terrorist Branch, in a joint security operation with the Royal Navy and Customs. They believed that "Bin Laden related terrorist material" was on board, although rumours suggested that anthrax was one of the suspected possibilities. The ship had sailed from Mauritius, and had stopped in Djibouti, next to Somalia, which has links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network.

After the first search of the vessel uncovered nothing, she was taken to a position in Sandown Bay, half a mile off the Isle of Wight for a second search which lasted several days. The press reported that a Scotland Yard spokesman said, "A full security search of the ship has been completed and no noxious or dangerous substances have been found aboard the vessel."

Fortunately no dangerous substances were found in the end, but it does go to show that in the modern age, not all cargoes carried by ships would automatically be welcomed to the Island's shores.

Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks

BBC News 1BBC News 2
1Although many believed that this was a deliberate insurance scam.

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